Meeting under the ‘goat’ sculpture at Spitalfields, we meet Keir and begin our discovery of Shoreditch and Spitalfields’ street art scene. Keir, an artist himself, is a guide with social enterprise Alternative London – a tour operator that supports artists and other young creatives. They may be small but they’ve been number one on TripAdvisor’s London tours list and featured in the Guardian’s top 10 tours in the world!
Our two hour walking tour took a loop through Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Shoreditch, taking in some of the area’s most creative ‘street canvas’ but also disovering some fascinating insights into how this multicultural area of the city has changed over the past 350 years. It was an eye-opener to hear that the building which is currently Brick Lane was once a Jewish synagogue and a Catholic church!
Getting under the skin of the street art scene
Being part of the scene himself, and close friends with many of the artists whose work we viewed, Keir was able to give some insider knowledge (did you know that street artist Stik made £50K from a limited edition print and gave it all away to charity?). Keir also knows that every tour will be different as the landscape is changing daily – new works pop up, literally, overnight.
What a walking tour also teaches you is that you should always look up, and look down. We spotted the small bronze sculptures of Jonesy on top of sign-posts. We saw tree roots transformed into snakes. We saw ‘No Entry’ signs comically ‘defaced’. We saw Invader’s famous mosaics on street corners. We didn’t just see ROA’s awe-inspiring bird and other huge murals but also found out more about how the area, and spots such as Hanbury Street in particular, are magnets for street artists.
Such is the sheer volume of artworks in this area, your guide can’t stop and talk about each and every one. This leaves plenty of opportunities for rewalking the route (backwards?) or taking another tour on another day. This is simply a two-hour snapshot of the scene on that one day.
Walking, cycling, drinking, eating, art(ing?)
Alternative London now run a whole wealth of tours so you can discover the many layers of this neighbourhood. Try a street art bike tour, a pub and craft beer tour, or an East London food tour. They also run street art workshops (which can also be combined with a walking tour) so you can learn how to create your own spray paint masterpiece.
As a social enterprise, Alternative London directs a portion of its profits into youth art workshops, free to budding street artists, and helps fund some of the largest street murals in London’s East End.
When/How to book
The Alternative London Walking Tour lasts 1.5-2hrs and runs Mon-Sat with multiple departure times on some days. For full dates/times and booking, plus more details of all of the tours and workshops on offer, visit www.alternativeldn.co.uk.